Hippo Campus are currently on the road and set to roll through NYC tonight for a show at Terminal 5, plus they’ll make their way down to DC on 10/24 for a sold out show at 9:30 Club. In anticipation of the gigs, I was able to get caught up with Jake Luppen over the phone to talk Bambi (out now on Grand Jury), g-g-g-g-ghost stories from the road, absentee voting, and how if the band were a burger, it’d be a spicy chicken sandwich. (Which is not a burger, but we’re sticking with it.) Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation, grab tickets to tonight’s show if you’re around, and MOST CERTAINLY download the record (and/or pre-order it on vinyl). HERE WE GO!
BYT: So I was looking at your touring schedule, and you’re on the road during the midterms. Have you made plans to vote?
JL: Yeah, we’ve got our absentee ballots sorted out. Some states let you print them out, but Minnesota makes you get them by mail and mail them back. I got mine sent to Columbus, and the other guys got theirs sent to some other places around there. And I asked our opening band if they’d gotten their absentee ballots, too, and they were like, “Yeah, definitely. Already got it.” That made me really happy to hear. Everyone’s actually prepared this year.
BYT: Amazing! Alright, so voting aside, you’ve got some vinyl coming out soon as well, yeah?
JL: Yeah, that’s out November…27th, I want to say? We did a couple of different pressings, so the standard one is super cool. We worked on it with our graphic designer, David Kramer. I forget which exactly the standard is, but we have a marbled orange one, a smoky gray one…some are just record store editions, another is a Minnesota edition…the standard isn’t just black, though. (I’m pretty sure. I should really remember these things!) [Laughs]
BYT: That’s rad! It’s really amazing how people’s interest in vinyl pretty much revived that industry. Like I was at a Record Store Day panel a few years ago and they were giving the facts and figures on how many jobs the vinyl revival created for people. Factories that had previously shut down from disinterest actually reopened and expanded! And people still can’t get their pressings done fast enough because there’s just so much demand.
JL: Wow! That’s cool, I didn’t know that!
BYT: Right?! Okay, and so the songs off this most recent record are great. Have you been especially enjoying being able to play any particular ones live?
JL: Yeah! I mean, before this tour we had a couple of weeks to rehearse everything, and during that rehearsal process we were figuring everything out in terms of which instruments and arrangements to add. We were pretty nervous before the end trying to get everything to a good place where we were excited about it, but when we got on the road, everything sort of fell into place. We’re playing a lot of new songs like “Bambi”, obviously, and “Doubt”, “Golden”…they’re all going really well, especially because we spend a lot of time on the road, and the added variation and dimension is really enjoyable for us.
BYT: What does your process generally look like when you’re creating songs? Does everyone have set roles in terms of what’s contributed? Or does it change depending on who’s inspired?
JL: It’s kind of a free for all. Back in the day, we’d always get into a room, go into my basement and jam on a riff that someone would have. With Bambi, we’d learned a lot about production and recording while we were doing Landmark, so we all sort of went off on our own and individually made songs. We wrote songs, recorded them and got some of the production down, and then we came together again and took them apart, digested them, saw how different things sounded, and then we did that again with our producer. There was a whole evolution to it. But we’re all trying to be more readily creative, more readily inspired on the road, because we have the opportunity to write on the road with computers and things. It’s going well.
BYT: That’s great! And please bear with me, because I’m about to ask you a couple of word association questions based on some of your song titles. (So we’re not talking about the actual narrative of the songs, just questions based on track names.) The first one is based on “Doubt” – what says to you that a song is finished? Do you vote on it at the end? [Laughs]
JL: Our joke right now is whether we should vote to vote. [Laughs] We always say, “Should we vote to put it to a vote?” People are getting sick of it, but it’s really funny. But I mean, you could say that something is never done, because you could keep changing it and working on it. That’s a pretty daunting problem, so what we usually do is give ourselves a deadline. With “Doubt”, we had a demo pretty similar to the final song, but we did it all again in the studio with the producer, and it turned into this really cool thing. We just kind of felt that it was where we wanted it to be.
BYT: Cool. Next one is for “Anxious” – do any of you get massive stage fright?
JL: We all get a little nervous before any show, but no one gets massive stage fright. I think that song was more about a general sense of anxiety, like mental health stuff, because I really suffer from anxiety, and so do some of the other guys. It’s an artistic questioning of it. But stage fright has its part in that for sure.
BYT: Totally. Alright, and last one is for “Mistakes” – if you could travel back in time to the very beginning of the project, is there anything you’d maybe warn yourself about, or would you do anything differently?
JL: That’s a good question. I think if I could go back in time, I’d tell myself…I don’t know, I guess it’s just being too attached to things, I guess. Like if I could go back in time and tell myself to ease up, not hold so tightly to these things…I don’t know, I think a lot of grief and suffering comes from holding too tightly to things that are naturally going to go away or fall apart. With this project it’s been amazing, everything’s blossomed to fruition, but there are things along the way you wish you could’ve seen go a little better, or wish you’d had a little more control. Having things go the way they’ve gone, though, I really couldn’t be happier. So if I could go back and tell myself anything, it’d probably just be to go with the flow. That’s my mistake.
BYT: Same. [Laughs] Alright, so that concludes the song title portion of the questionnaire, but now I’m going to exploit the fact that it’s October and ask you if you have any good ghost stories!
JL: [Laughs] Oh man. This is a very sore topic for me, actually. (Just kidding!) I mean, I do have a story, but it makes me look so stupid, and I’m still mad about it. We recorded at this studio called Pachyderm, and it’s this old, sort of home-style…I don’t know, it’s a big home. It was apparently this dream home, but the owners moved out, and the house went to shit, and it became this squatters’ paradise. It had a really dark energy, and it was really heavy. So it kind of garnered this reputation for having spiritual energy, ghosts and stuff, and so when we went, we were very respectful, like, “We love this place, don’t spook us, please! Thank you!” And so Whistler and I were bunkies in this one room, and we were kind of teasing all day like, “Oh man, I hope the ghosts don’t come out tonight!” [Laughs] And that night at 4am, Whistler wakes up to this horrible sound, like a non-human, spooky sound, like ominous “OOoooOOOoo” noises echoing through the house. And he’s like, “Bro, please don’t tell me you don’t hear this!” So I wake up and I’m like, “It’s fine, there’s no ghost!” And of course I start hearing the noise, too, and I’m like, “Oh my god. There’s a ghost here! We’re gonna die!” So we’re both scared shitless, and we go into Nathan’s room to ask if he hears it, and he’s like, “No. Just sleep in here, everything’s fine.” So we’re terrified, we ask everyone if they heard the noise, and all of them are like, “No, what are you talking about?” And it goes on like that, and Whistler and I are profoundly impacted by this, like “I can’t believe there was this energy that made itself present to us!” And we literally thought differently about ghosts and energy after that. A year goes by, and we go back to Pachyderm. We asked the engineer, like, “So there haven’t been any more ghost sightings since last time?” And he’s like, “What are you talking about? No. And no one’s put speakers with ghost sounds, either.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And he’s like, “Yeah, you didn’t know? The producer was playing a prank on you! They plugged in the speakers on the floor and scared the shit out of you!” I was like, “Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” They didn’t tell us for a whole fucking year! Whistler and I had this completely life-changing experience, and they just didn’t tell us! We confronted them later to be like, “What the fuck was that about?! You didn’t tell us?!” And they were like, “Well, you took it so hard that we just really didn’t want to ruin it for you.” I’m still mad about it. I didn’t talk to them for a couple days, like “Fuck this!” I wanted ghosts to be real.
BYT: Oh my god. That’s a huge bummer, but also an amazing story. Expert pranking! And that studio is in Minnesota, too, right? Which leads me to my next question, which is – Minneapolis is known for inventing the Juicy Lucy. If Hippo Campus were a burger, what would that entail? (Assuming you don’t already have one.)
JL: Probably a spicy chicken sandwich. I really hope that’s what we’d be, because I love that. It’s not really a burger…
BYT: Totally still counts.
JL: I’m sticking with it. Spicy chicken sandwich.
BYT: Amazing. Alright, and finally, what (apart from these shows and your break for the holidays) do you have in the pipeline that you’re stoked on?
JL: Well, we’ve really amped up the production and the performance with these shows, so we’re really excited to play them. But in the future, you know, we’re always writing, always looking to put stuff out, and just trying to be good people, creative people.